#AmWriting - Day 11. On Writing Resignation Letters While Sobbing
I have been trying to write this stupid resignation letter from/for/to Teach For America for the past hour, and I can’t type more than a few sentences without bursting into tears.
It’s weird, when I took the position to teach and, thus, leave the organization, I felt so ready, so sure of myself. I had/have a lot of anger, sometimes, towards the organization that I’m still trying to grapple with. I started my leaving-process with the same sense of self-righteous fervor. On top of that, I was so sure that teaching was where I needed to be. The classroom was where I needed to be, with students was where I needed to be.
I still think the latter half— that I need to be back in the classroom. But, I didn’t realize leaving would be as hard as it turned out to be. So, I admittedly thought this letter would be easy. I thought I’d speak my peace and be done with it. And I will (I’m sure this is not the last time I will write about leaving). And I have. And I still have qualms with the organization that I will be vocal about.
But I (stupidly, dammit) did 2 things:
1) I forgot that one of the biggest reasons I joined this org and struggled with the adamant haters of it was because they seemed so quick to forget that on the other side of their hate were people. People deserve compassion and kinship, no matter how much you might disagree their beliefs.
2) I started to become one of those not-feeling-haters, but towards my own perhaps-complicit past (and admittedly and unfortunately a little towards some of the people in it).
I was at a teacher training at the Honolulu Museum of Art, and we were looking at the Philippines when this college student interrupted our tour. He asked some good questions, then said, “So is the museum going to have any art from the Philippines that wasn’t when it was bastardized by the Spanish?”
And I had to laugh, in part because I saw so much of myself in him, in some ways (though, at least at a passing glance, this kid was not Pinoy).
My reaction to him (in my head) though, was that he perhaps needed to chill.
Is it horrible that the Spanish came and colonized… well, lots of people? BOTH sides of my heritage? Of course. That’s not okay, and that can’t be forgotten. That said, as the product of two of those colonialized nations, I would also be remiss to say that Spanish lineage doesn’t now flow through my body, whether I like it or not. It clearly does— from my name to my skin to other things. It’s part of my history. It’s not a pretty part of it, to be sure, but I can’t scrub out the Spanish bits of me. We need to acknowledge our past, we need to know that the mistakes made cannot happen again, then we have to move forward.
I sort of feel that way (though, clearly, this metaphor is already mixed and not at all equally weighted) about the parts of Teach For America that I… don’t love.
Are there some problems within TFA? Sure. Have we failed, in the past, at prepping corps members and staff members to culturally serve our students and partner well with communities? Absolutely. Do we need to continue to call those things out so that they change? YES.
That said, my passion about education, my willingness to care about how anyone else other than myself was educated CAME from Teach For America. Teach For America served folks like my parents. Teach For America has a lot of folks LIKE my parents— second generations kids who were able to navigate the system and “beat the odds” (in a system they shouldn’t have to beat, but that’s another rant for another time).
To denounce the org completely, to deny association with it, to “scrub the TFA” out of me would also mean I would be trying to scrub out the same people who loved and nurtured me while I tried to figure out what it all meant, why I was doing this. They have laughed with me when it was ridiculous. They have celebrated alongside me when we found success; they cried with me when times were hard, when we were frustrated, when the nation’s problems were seemingly too big to overcome.
I can’t, nor do I want to, take away my history. It’s part of who I am, it got me to where I am now. While it’s time to say goodbye to it, to move forward (and hope the work moves forward too), it would be wrong for me to be so angry that I am not at least grateful for the experience I have, and for the tremendous amount of love, support, and joy along the way.
So, to my first work families, thanks. It’s not goodbye though, it’s just a hui hou.